After 41 years heading The Center for Puppetry Arts, Vincent Anthony, the founder and executive director of the internationally recognized theater, is stepping down at the end of the year, the Center announced Monday, Oct. 14.
Anthony built the Center into one of Atlanta’s most influential arts organizations, taking it from a small outfit that performed shows at what is now the Woodruff Arts Center to one of the world’s premiere theater companies focused on marionettes and puppets.
When many contemporary Americans think of puppets, the characters created by Jim Henson come to mind: the denizens of Sesame Street including Kermit the Frog, Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Elmo. Henson brought Kermit along in 1978 to help cut the ribbon for the opening of the Center.
Anthony chose the former Spring Street Elementary School in Midtown as the permanent home for a vision he’d honed for years as a young puppeteer. He wanted a place for performance, but he also wanted to further the mission of what what the building was originally designed for—education.
In time, the Center grew and became a destination for families, curious theatergoers and students. Educational programming took a central focus. But Anthony also believed the ingenuity and artistry that went into making a puppet that could be brought to life, transfixing children and adults alike, needed to be showcased. So, a museum grew within the center. It culminated 12 years ago with the opening of the Jim Henson Collection Gallery.
The gallery is home to Muppets, Sesame Street characters and more than 500 Henson creations and artifacts. It is considered to be perhaps the largest example in the country of the late Henson’s work. Anthony got to know Henson in the early 1970s through puppetry festivals. Their professional relationship grew and, after Henson died in 1990, Anthony was able to convince the Henson family that Atlanta would be the right home for the puppeteer’s most iconic characters. The Henson wing opened in 2015.
“It makes me feel proud,” Anthony told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2014. “The exciting part is, this will be a living, breathing legacy to the genius of Jim Henson that people can look at and can be a part of.”
Anthony oversaw the development of the Center’s Global Collection Gallery that showcases puppetry traditions over five continents. The more than 200 international puppets and Henson puppets are housed in a 15,000-square-foot, $14 million gallery.
After Anthony officially retires from his current duties, he’ll become executive advisor, the Center said in a statement. He’ll help with fundraising and strategic planning. He will also serve on the U.S. division of Union Internationale de la Marionnette, the international organization for the art of puppetry.
While the Center holds a national search for a new executive director, Beth Schiavo, will be interim managing director.
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